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Leguminosae: Papilionideae (Legume Family);
Forms and Subspecies
The genus consists of some three hundred species
that are found in the tropical and subtropical
regions of both hemispheres (Schultes and
Dolicholus phaseoloides Sw.
Rhynchosia phaseoloides (Sw.) DC.
Ah rna' ak' (Lacandon, "ara parrot vine"), antipusi,
atecuixtle, atecuxtli, bejuco culebra, bird's eyes,
casanpulgas, chanate pusi, cha'pak' (Mayan),
colorin chiquito, colorincito, colorines (cf.
Erythrina americana), coralito, frijol de chintlatlahua,
frijolillo, guarecitas, gun-ma-muy-tio-fia
(Chinantec), krebsaugenbohne, liucai-nofal (Chontal),
negritos, ojitos de picho (Spanish, "little eyes
of the dove"), ojo de cangrejo (Spanish, "crab's
eye"), ojo de chanate (Mexico, "eye of the thrush
[Cassidix mexicanus]"), ojo de culebra (Spanish,
"eye of the snake"), ojo de pajarito (Spanish, "eye
of the little bird"), ojo de zanate (Mexico, "eye of
the thrush [Cassidix mexicanus]") , pega palo,
peonia, perico, peyote (see Lophophora williamsii) ,
pipilzintli, piule, pulguitas, puren-sapicho, saltipus,
senecui1che (see Heimia salicifolia), shasham
wupu'ar (Pima), sinicuiche, xenecui1che
Plants and Fungi Known in Mexico as Piule
(from Martinez 1987, 757*; Ott 1993,419*; Santesson 1938; supplemented)
The Aztecs may have used the striking seeds of this
plant for ritual purposes (Schultes and Hofmann
1980,340*). The red-black seeds, which are known
by the name piule (Santesson 1938), were or are
used ritually in the village of San Pedro Nexapa,
on the slopes of Popocatepetl (Mexico) (Wasson
and Wasson 1957, 306 f.). In Mexico, the name
piule has been used as a catchall term for psychoactive
plants since the twentieth century
(Martinez 1987, 757*; cf. Psilocybe mexicana, Turbina
corymbosa). The word piule may have been
derived from the Nahuatl peyotl (= Lophophora
williamsii). Accordingly, piuleros are those people
who use a psychoactive substance (piule) to divine
and/or heal (Santesson 1937a, 1937b). Some
species, e.g., Rhynchosia longeracemosa Mart. et
Gal., are now also known by the name peyote
This climber is found throughout the tropical and
warm regions of Mexico and on many islands of
the Caribbean (Cuba) (von Reis and Lipp 1982,
139*). It usually grows at the edge of forests and in
clearings. It is frequently found in fallow milpas
The seeds are best pregerminated in a mixture of
soil and moss. The seedlings must be planted in
topsoil and watered well as soon as the seeds have
opened and the young shoots have become visible
(Grubber 1991, 56*). The plant requires a moist,
warm climate and in northern zones can thus be
grown only as a houseplant.
The vine, which can grow to a length of several
meters, has the typical leaves of the Legume
Family, in which three leaves sit upon each stalk.
The greenish flowers are arranged in long racemes.
The bean-shaped seedpods are constricted
between the two small, red-black, almost spherical
hard seeds (4 to 6 mm long).
The kidney-shaped seeds of the closely related
Rhynchosia longeracemosa are "mottled light-and
dark-brown" (Schultes and Hofmann 1992,55*).
Rhynchosia pyramidalis is often confused with
Abrus precatorius 1. (jequirity, rosary pea), which
is widely feared as a poisonous plant. It too
produces red-black seeds, although they are
somewhat larger (6 to 7 mm long). Jequirity can
be recognized by its smaller, pinnate leaves. The
seeds of Abrus precatorius contain abrin, a lectin mixture that is unstable when heated and one of
the most potent of all known toxins, along with
several alkaloids (Ghosal and Dutta 1971; Nwodo
1991; Nwodo and Alumanah 1991; Roth et al.
1994, 83 f. *). In Mexico, the seeds of Abrus
precatorius are known as colorines (see Erythrina
spp.). They are associated with the mescal bean
cult (see Sophora secundiflora); ashes from the
leaves are used as a coca additive (see Erythroxylumcoca).
- Seeds (semina rhynchosiae phaseoloides, bird's
- StalksPreparation and Dosage
In entheogenic rituals in the high valleys of
Mexico, twelve untreated seeds were ingested with
six pairs of Psilocybe aztecorum per person
(Wasson and Wasson 1957,306).
To date, the only description that is available
pertains to the ritual use of the seeds in connection
with the ingestion of mushrooms. The
ingestion of the seeds is presumably more symbolic
in meaning, for the red-black seeds represent
bodiless, free-floating eyes, a symbol of psychedelic
and prophetic vision.
The Zapotec of Miahuatlan are said to have
used the seeds of the closely related species
Rhynchosia minima (1.) DC. [syn. Dolicholus
minimus] in magical rituals (Dfaz 1979,87*).
The small, durable seeds are made into amulets
and chains (cf. Erythrina americana, Erythrina
spp., Sophora secundiflora).
Wall paintings at Teopantitla (near Teotihuacan)
allegedly show the seeds falling out of the
hand of the rain god TIMoc (D. McKenna 1995,
102*). The red-black coloration is said to be an
indication of the seeds' hallucinogenic use
(Schultes 1970c; Schultes and Hofmann 1980,
The seeds are regarded as a narcotic and poison in
Mexican folk medicine (Jiu 1996, 254*). The
Yucatec Maya use the root along with other herbs
to produce a medicine to treat pellagra284 (Pullido
S. and Serralta P. 1993,37*). The Pima of northern
Mexico grind the seeds on a mortar and strew the
powder into the eyes of those who are suffering
from the "evil eye" (Pennington 1973,223*).
In the Dominican Republic, the stalks are used
to prepare an aphrodisiac drink (Dlaz 1979,87*).
The chemistry of the constituents has not yet been
clarified. Reports about the alkaloids are
contradictory (Santesson 1937a). The seeds
apparently contain alkaloids similar to those in
Sophora secundiflora and Erythrina spp. (D.
McKenna 1995, 102*). The root may possibly
contain niacin or nicotine amide, for it is used in
the Yucatan as a folk medicine to treat pellagra
(maidism). Whether the flavonol rhynchosin
(Adinarayana et al. 1980) occurs in the plant is
In Mexico, it is commonly believed that the seeds
cause "imbecility" or "madness" (Diaz 1979, 87*;
Jiu 1996, 254*). There are as yet no reports of
actual psychoactive effects. An extract of the seeds
is said to have curare-like activity (Schultes and
Commercial Forms and Regulations
The seeds are sometimes available through the
international seed trade. Mexican Indians
sometimes sell necklaces with beads of Rhynchosia
See also the entries for Erythrina spp. and Sophora
Adinarayana, Dama, Duvvuru Gunasekar, Otto
Se1igmann, and Hildebert Wagner. 1980.
Rhynchosin, a new 5-deoxyflavonol from
Rhynchosia beddomei. Phytochemistry 19:483-84.
Ghosal, S., and S. K. Dutta. 1971. Alkaloids of Abrus
precatorius. Phytochemistry 10:195-98.
Grear, J. W. 1978. A revision of the New World
species of Rhynchosia (Leguminosae-Fabodeae).
Memoirs ofthe New York Botanical Garden 31
suppl. (1): 1-168.
Nwodo, O. F. C. 1991. Studies on Abrus precatorius
seeds. I: Uterotonic activity of seed oil. Journal of
Ethnopharmacology 31 (3): 391-94.
Nwodo, O. F. C., and E. O. Alumanah. 1991. Studies
on Abrus precatorius seeds. II: Antidiarrhoeal
activity. Journal ofEthnopharmacology 31 (3):
Ristic, S., and A. Thomas. 1962. Zur Kenntnis von
Rhynchosia pyramidalis (Pega Palo). Archiv fur
Santesson, C. G. 1937a. Notiz tiber piule, eine
mexikanische Rauschdroge. Etnologiska Studier
(Goteborg) 4: 1-11.
---. 1937b. Piule, eine mexikanische
Rauschdroge. Archiv fur Pharmazie: 532-37.
---. 1938. Noch eine mexikanische "Piule"Droge:
Semina Rynchosiae phaseoloidis DC.
[sic!]. Etnologiska Studier 6: 179-83.
Wasson, R. Gordon, and Valentina P. Wasson. 1957.
Mushrooms, Russia, and history. New York:Pantheon Books.